“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” –Randy Pausch
Those words were spoken by a guy whose book I recently read entitled, The Last Lecture. Doctors estimated that Randy Pausch had three to six months of good health remaining. He didn’t waste those remaining months. He spent time with family, with friends and with colleagues. And he wrote a book.
The Last Lecture is a collection of life’s lessons and reflections, by a man with just a short time to live. Ironically enough, his book is more about living than dying. He talked about the importance of overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, and seizing every moment, because in his case, life had to be squeezed into just a few short months and ten cancerous tumors in his liver were not going to cheat him of even 10 minutes that he had left.
Many college professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to ruminate on what matters most to them as a professor and as a human-being. They are invited to talk about their lives and the life lessons. Carnegie Mellon invited Pausch to do the same, and Pausch’s lecture became a book.
In preparation for a lecture series that I’m doing called “30 Days to Live”, I’ve been living as if it’s my last 30 days.
What if you had only 30 days to live? How would you live? Who would you want to be with? What would you like to say to them? Where would you like to go? What would you like to do? Would you modify your weekly schedule to allow for more together time? Would you still watch the same amount of television? Would you still fret over the same tit-for-tat stuff, hold grudges or get bitter? Would life’s little irritations even matter to you? Would you talk to God more? Would you admit that He existed? Would you go to church more? Would you spend your money differently? Would you follow through with your good intentions? Would you need to connect with a family member that you had distanced yourself from? Is there an apology that you would need to make? If you had only 30 days to live what unfinished business would you need to take care of? Is there a son that you need to call? Is there a daughter that you need to hug? Is there a parent you need to sit down with? Is there an issue that you need to resolve? If you had 30 days to live, how would you live? Are there habits that you would give up? Are there lifestyle changes that you would make? Is there a letter that you would have to write? Is there a task that you would need to do? Between your date of birth and your date of death is a dash. This post is about that dash and about the lecture you leave behind while you live.
After reading Pausch’s brief book, I couldn’t help but think about the last talk, post, or lecture that I would be forced to give some day. And since I only have less than 30 days to live (at least, that’s how I am living these days though no diagnosis has been given to the contrary and I’m healthy so far as I know), I had better go ahead and write about a few things that I need to share, something to remember my life by and to get communicated what I need to say to the people I love. What would my last lecture sound like assuming that I only had 30 days to live?
1. Live in the present moment. Savor your days and simple things. If I have any regrets in life, it would be this one – that I always looked ahead to the next thing without fully enjoying the moment. I don’t know where my 20’s went. My 30’s are just a blur. My 40’s are just beginning and I want to savor every moment.
2. Read and learn as much as you can. Learn like you’ll be here forever but live like it’s your last day. Be a student of the Bible because in it we encounter God.
3. Develop and live by a biblical, Christian worldview, knowing what you believe and why and how Christianity is true. Don’t ever abandon the faith. The Gospel is true and is the hope of the world. Christianity answers the deeper questions of life like no other belief system in the world. Where we came from, why we’re here, what life’s purpose is, what went wrong in the world, what God is doing to fix it, why the bible is so special, what God eventually does to resolved suffering and evil, and how we know there is life after death – all of these questions are so ably addressed by a Christian worldview. No matter what happens, don’t abandon the faith. Christian Theism is defensible and the resurrection changes every thing.
4. Love your spouse with a mature love. Allow all of your learning and growth in life to translate into a love for your lover, where mistakes can be talked about and true intimacy can be achieved. I want to thank my wife for all that she has given to me over the years, so selfless in caring for children, allowing me to pursue degrees, and setting me up to enjoy daily life. Donnette, I have to say thank you and please live your life knowing that you were loved, even though my own selfishness seemed to indicate otherwise and hindered me from understanding how love was supposed to work. I offer my sincerest apologies for inflicting hurt. I also want you to know that my happiest memories in life have you somewhere in the picture or on the slide of life. College, career, moving, graduate school, children, and life transitions – you are in all of them. The dates, the baby’s first cry, the first job after college, the Christmas mornings, the trips home to see family, the great dinners, the songs sung, the little moments of humor and silliness – only you babe.
5. Be absolutely crazy over your children. Don’t placate or pamper them. Shoot straight and let them feel the consequences of their actions. But be the safest place in the world for them to go to talk about anything and everything in life. Have no “off-limits” topics. Talk about anatomy to theology to just plain old life and be fully there when you talk. Tell them what is important to you. Make it clear how they can live their own life, but that if they wanted to honor you as a parent, how best to go about that.
Megan, I love your ways, so considerate and kind. I love how you laugh when you’re really tickled. I love your curly hair, to see you lost in a great story, to hear the word “Dad” mid-sentence to just make sure I’m still there and plugged in to what you are telling me. You are wise in so many ways, a lover of music, and passionate for animals and left-out people. I absolutely adore your artwork and sketches. You be a work of art; make life beautiful with whatever you are given to work with. My sense is that you will graduate from IWU someday, get married, have a family, all the while, creating, sketching, painting some of the most beautiful things one could imagine.
Will, you have no idea how much you mean to me. You are quiet, yet so fun loving and ornery. You are a man I will always respect, for getting on the mat and wrestling for something you believe in. As you get older, you are looking more like I looked when I was your age. You don’t have to achieve anything for me to love you any more than I do. God has given you the ability to process your thoughts slowly, deeply, and thoroughly. When it’s all done, I love hearing what you have to say. Your love for the outdoors, for adventure, for the mountains and rivers, pulls me back to my roots and primal instincts. God has given you the gift of appreciating His nature gifts and living from them. When you kayak tour and hike and climb and travel and experience all of this, know that I will always be in those moments with you. My sense is that you would love to see the world and that college and/or the military or a career will be the vehicle that takes you along this path. In all your journeys, there will be one cheering for you as you explore and lead a God-honoring life.
Levi, I could not imagine life without you. God has given you some great abilities and I want you to use everyone of them for Him. Honor God with your life. Really enjoy knowing and loving Him through your gifts. Is there anything more honoring to God than that? My sense is that you’ll go to a Big Ten school, study engineering, play a sport, and build that home for unwed mothers that we’ve talked about someday. Whatever you do, use your words, sharp intellect and athletic ability to honor God and win great victories for His kingdom. You honor your mother. And when people want to know what you attribute to your life success, you tell them that there was this little 5 foot tall woman who fixed the greatest meals in the world, invested so much time in your upbringing, and who showed you how to be tender and kind.
6. Always partner with a local church, serving others in the community, helping to reclaim a fallen creation, fulfilling the cultural mandate to steward the creation as well as to make disciples of Jesus. My mother wrote in her journal that her one great wish for all her family would be that all of her children would be a part of a local church all their lives. “Mom, here I am, leading one. I have championed that which you so deeply have believed in.” The church is the hope of the world when it’s working right. I would also add that I appreciate my immediate family, my brothers and sister. You always carry your family with you. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t recall some memory or experience that you had as a child with your family. Randy, Becky, Jeff, and Rob (and your families), remember our mothers request and legacy. May the family circle be unbroken when we are all together once again.
7. Cultivate a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t become a “religionist.” Follow Christ with passion, go against the cultural tide if you have to, and make Him your greatest pleasure. Do life as he asked us to do it.
8. Have a passion in life that you care deeply about. Don’t worry about what other people think. Live from your passion, always showing gratitude for those who help you along the way.
Sitting around the table a few days ago and thinking about these things, I asked the kids, “If you only had 30 days to live, what would you do and who would you do it with?” The consensus was that they would want to do things with their immediate and extended family. But the specifics of what they wanted to do varied. (I give these is grocery list fashion)
Levi, would want to take in a Colts game. Visit the 5 places he would like to go to the most (California, NYC, Hawaii, Alaska, and Dallas.) Experience 0 gravity. Go to Cedar Point one more time. Help all abused dogs. Go to a BCS football game. Go to Michigan Wolverines football game with uncles and cousins. Try the worlds hottest pepper and get on the wall of flame at Wings Etc. See Dad run a NFL play or catch a pass in a game. Visit all Big Ten Stadiums. Solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Will would visit the Grand Tetons and the Boundary Waters and go to WV to kayak with the dogs.
Megan would adopt some death-row dogs and donate her money to the Humane Society. Hug everyone she cared about. Stay in a cabin in the mountains. Eat as much as she wanted. Would not exercise.
Donnette would go to KC and spend time with family there. Spend time with parents in Quincy, IL. Go to Israel and Ireland with family. Teach her kids how to make a few of their favorite recipe’s. Make a CD at Gaither Studios with encouraging songs, songs about being faithful, loving God and then donate CD’s to prisoners, crisis pregnancy centers, nursing homes and others needing encouragement. Somehow be able to share her heart on a big scale with her nation for the burden she carries for them. Tell them to look to God’s Word on the key issues like family, sex, faith, abortion. Go buy a beautiful dress and not worry about the cost. Then go have dinner and attend an outdoor concert with me in KC or Colorado. She would hope that she wouldn’t have to do any grocery shopping or laundry.
I would take half a month and see the world with my family: tour Jerusalem and sail the Sea of Galilee; sat down for lunch in Greece and stand in the amphitheater of Rome; fly over the Swiss Alps and stay in a mountain lodge; visit a few key stops on Paul’s missionary journeys; spend time with a C.S Lewis guide in England and see his home, Oxford office, and pub he lunched in; do Alaska and Australia and European villages and towns. I would show my kids how to use my library and write books with it. Take some time for extended family and church family friends and any atheist friends who would care to talk about the deeper spiritual questions. Spend a day or so with children who are not expected to live very long. I have no desire to ride a bull, jump out of a plane, or visit a celebrity. I would spend the next 15 days or so at home with the people I love, sharing my thoughts, appreciating the moment. Last meal: Donnette’s homemade pizza.
Randy Pausch, Born: October 23, 1960 – Died: July 25, 2008. He was 47. Joey Nelson, Born: February 22, 1968 – Died: January 31, 2009. He was 40 years old. How will you live your dash?